D.C. Council Chairman Kwame Brown has issued a half-apology for his lease of two Lincoln Navigators, saying in a statement, “I apologize for the disruption this has caused, and I regret that I appeared insensitive to the financial challenges our city and residents face."
"As Chairman of the Council, it is my duty to make responsible fiscal decisions regarding the District’s use of tax payer dollars," the apology continued. "The fact that [the Department of Public Works] procured the vehicle for nearly $2,000 a month is an unacceptable use of city funds.”
Brown said he returned the vehicle and that he plans “to reimburse the city for my share of the use of the vehicle once the Attorney General renegotiates the lease agreement.” But it’s not clear how soon that will happen -- if it will happen at all.
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The Washington Examiner reports Brown’s “fully loaded” Navigator “is now the ‘backup’ vehicle for Mayor Vincent Gray,” and it’s still costing taxpayers $1,769 per month. DPW spokesperson Linda Grant “could not immediately say whether the ‘backup’ SUV is used when the mayor doesn’t need it.”
In his statement, Brown continued to claim ignorance, saying, “I have returned the only vehicle of which I have had possession in my capacity as Chairman of the Council. The first Lincoln Navigator procured by DPW was returned to DPW, and it was my understanding that the vehicle would be returned to the leasing company at no cost to the District. I learned just this weekend that the vehicle was maintained as part of the District fleet.”
Ward 6 Councilmember Tommy Wells, head of the committee that oversees the Department of Public Works, sent a letter to DPW Director William Howland yesterday asking for details on leases “for use by an executive agency or department director, their senior management staff, and the Council of the District of Columbia.”
14th and You has a rundown of the whole episode -- which may not be over yet.
Elsewhere in the DMV:
* Mayor Vincent Gray has told the D.C. Taxicab Commission to lift the $19 cap on rides across the District. Though the D.C. Council had previously passed legislation that would have eliminated the cap last fall, Mayor Adrian Fenty “circumvented the council and ordered that the cap remain in effect,” the Washington Post reports, relying on then-Attorney General Peter Nickles’s opinion that Congress had granted Fenty authority over taxi regulations. Cab drivers, who didn’t like Fenty’s abolition of the old zone system, backed Gray for mayor last year.
* The Washington Times reports, “Now that Wal-Mart’s applications have been filed formally with the D.C. office of planning, the battle over the retailer’s entry into the nation’s capital is joined in earnest.” Critics “use sharp words -- ‘war,’ ‘invasion’ and ‘destruction of this city’ -- to describe the magnitude of the threat they say the company poses,” while supporters say the “four-store plan in the District could mean an estimated $10 million in tax revenue, hundreds of initial construction jobs and about 1,200 full-time jobs.”
Meanwhile, Walmart spokesman Steven Restivo tells DCist that the company’s D.C. stores will not stock firearms. “As always, we strive to provide products that are relevant to customer needs and ensure our merchandise selections reflect the items that our customers want to buy,” Restivo said.
* At the GLAA Forum, Rick Rosendall criticizes the D.C. Republican Committee for inviting Allen West, a Tea Party-backed black Republican from Florida, to headline its annual Lincoln Douglass Day dinner. Rosendall writes, “This reminds me of the Illinois GOP recruiting Alan Keyes from Maryland to run against Barack Obama for the U.S. Senate in 2004. I mean, sure, the guy’s an extremist rabble rouser, but hey, he’s black!”
* The Bread for the City blog takes a look at the impact of D.C.’s plastic bag law after one year.
* Tim Krepp at The Hill is Home says he’s done “defending our fair city” against charges of winter wimpishness after D.C. Public Schools called a two-hour delay Tuesday: “They were right, I was wrong; apparently, D.C. just can’t handle the winter.”
* Hampton Roads lawyer David McCormick became the third Republican to formally enter the race for Virginia’s open U.S. Senate seat. The Post says McCormick “said he deliberately chose George Washington’s birthday to make his announcement, comparing the Revolutionary War hero’s fight against the British to his own crusade against the ‘ineffective and in many cases immoral leadership in our capital.’”
McCormick is a definite long-shot in a race that already includes ex-Sen. George Allen and Tea Party activist Jamie Radtke, and that could soon include state legislator Bob Marshall, Prince William County Board of Supervisors Chairman Corey Stewart, and others. Meanwhile, Not Larry Sabato reports John Henke, a consultant who worked on Allen’s unsuccessful 2006 re-election campaign, has signed on with Radtke.
* The Maryland state Senate “has just one bill on its agenda Wednesday: the Religious Freedom and Civil Marriage Act,” the Baltimore Sun reports. Debate on the same-sex marriage measure “is expected to run into Wednesday evening and carry over to Thursday.” Senate President Mike Miller “has told senators to clear their weekend schedules in case an expected filibuster extends into Saturday.”
* Six liberal Maryland state senators are proposing a set of bills “designed to raise an estimated $827 million in new revenues,” according to Maryland Reporter. The bills would boost taxes on alcohol, cigarettes, and gasoline, among other things. The Towson Times says another proposal to raise the state’s alcohol taxes draws “mixed reactions” from legislators and industry representatives.
Follow P.J. Orvetti on Twitter at @PJOinDC